In my last post I explained that Laity Lodge is devoted to the ministry of the laity, that is, the ministry of all of God’s people, both clergy and non-clergy alike. In this post I’ll share why I share that core commitment of Laity Lodge. As I’ve said many times before, I have lay ministry in my bones.
I didn’t start out that way. I spent my early years in a Methodist church. The man in charge was called a minister. He preached and prayed and did all the things ministers do. (He also had a son who was about my age, and who was extremely mischievous. I remember one Sunday during worship when this boy was crawling through the plants along the side of the sanctuary. My mother whispered to me that minister’s children are often troublemakers.)
When I was six years old, my family moved to Glendale. We left our Methodist church in Inglewood and started attending the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. “Hollywood Pres,” as we called it, had many ministers on staff, including my uncle Donny. Though the lay members of this church were active in many kinds of service, I don’t remember hearing anything about lay ministry per se. (Photo: The First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood)
Lloyd Ogilvie and Lay Ministry
Then, in 1972, Lloyd Ogilvie came as the senior minister of our church. Except that’s not what he wanted to be called. He said that he was the church’s pastor, not its minister. All of us, he continued, are ministers. All of us are called into the ministry of Christ, so that we might serve Him both in the church and in the world. Therefore we should no longer call Lloyd Ogilvie and the other ordained folk ministers. They are pastors, people who are to equip us for our ministry. We are the true ministers.
I still remember my initial reactions when I heard Pastor Ogilvie say this. I was fascinating by the idea that I was a minister of Christ. I felt honored, empowered, and challenged. Yet I didn’t like the word “pastor.” It sounded odd to me, and it took a while before I began to be comfortable calling Doctor Ogilvie my pastor.
During the next nineteen years, I heard Pastor Ogilvie reiterate the lay ministry theme again and again and again. He articulated a four-fold vision for the church, which included it being “an equipping center for the ministry of the laity.” Under his leadership, the Hollywood church began a Wednesday evening “Laos Academy,” employing the Greek word laos, which means “people.”
In 1984 I joined the staff of Hollywood Pres as the Director of College Ministries, transitioning to become the Associate Pastor of Education in 1988. In both of these roles I was expected to equip the lay members of the church for their ministry. I was assigned the Wednesday evening program, the successor to the Laos Academy. During my seven years on the staff of the Hollywood church, never once did I hear anyone question the idea of lay ministry. That’s not to say that every single member of the church was living out his or her calling as a minister of Christ. But the notion of lay ministry was so embedded into the culture of the church that it was assumed to be true. We had lay ministry in our bones.
Lay Ministry at Irvine Presbyterian Church
This was not true of all churches. When I came to Irvine Presbyterian Church in 1991, I preached several sermons on lay ministry, calling my people to be ministers of Christ in the church and in the world. I expected that what I was saying would be simply a reminder of what folks had previously heard and believed. Thus I was shocked to discover that many of my faithful members had not heard that they were ministers of Christ. Some were excited by this new perspective on their calling as Christians. But others were angry with me. I remember one church leader taking me aside after a Sunday morning service. Pointing his finger at my chest in an accusatory manner, he said, “You’re just trying to get out of your job! You are the minister here. We called you for this purpose. We pay you well to be our minister. So don’t try to get us to do your job!”
That was an eye-opening experience for me, let me tell you. For the first time in my adult life I realized that what I had learned from Lloyd Ogilvie wasn’t the party line throughout Christendom. There were still lots of faithful Christians who believed that the ordained clergy were the ministers, and that the members were called to receive the ministry. Many of these were in my own church!
During the next sixteen years of my pastorate at Irvine Presbyterian Church, I sounded the lay ministry bell again and again. I showed my congregation that I wasn’t making this up out of whole cloth. It was found within Scripture in many passages, notably Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and Matthew 28:16-20. In time, the church began to embrace its calling as ministers. By the end of my tenure there, this idea was no longer controversial. I was gratified to see hundreds of our members actively involved in a wide variety of ministries, from teaching Sunday School, to coaching soccer, to serving on the city council. In fact, this was one of my greatest joys as a pastor. (By the way, the man who accused me of trying to get out of my job changed his tune and became both a committed minister of Christ and a dear friend.)
Given the fact that I have lay ministry in my bones, and that empowering the laity has been a central theme of my ministry as a pastor, it has been easy for me to embrace this central commitment of Laity Lodge. I’m delighted to spend the next chunk of my life working in a ministry that seeks to encourage and equip God’s people for ministry. This is, I believe, one of the greatest opportunities for the church today.
Thus, I have chosen to join the Laity Lodge team because I am committed to helping the people of God be ministers of Jesus Christ. Moreover, I’m excited to be part of a ministry that brings exceptional resources to bear upon this mission. I’ll say more about these resources in my next post.